The ReturnJune 25, 2003
In the remote Russian wilderness, two brothers face a range of new, conflicting emotions when their father–a man they only know through a single photograph–resurfaces.
Release Year: 2003
Rating: 8.1/10 (15,482 voted)
Critic's Score: 82/100
Stars: Vladimir Garin, Vanya Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko
Two teenage Russian boys have their father return home suddenly after being absent for 12 years. The father takes the boys on a holiday to a remote island on a lake in the north of Russia that turns into a test of manhood of almost mythic proportions.
Writers: Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky
Devushka v zerkalakh
Man at Port
Release Date: 25 June 2003
Filming Locations: Ladoga Lake, Russia
Opening Weekend: €129,056
(2 November 2003)
(5 September 2004)
Did You Know?
When pre-production was starting, director Andrei Zvyagintsev told producer Dmitri Lesnevsky there was no point in making the film if they couldn't find two boys who were 'actors of genius'. Zvyagintsev had two assistants who helped him look for actors, one in St. Petersburg and one in Moscow. Zvyagintsev visited both cities. He found Vladimir Garin in St. Petersburg and Vanya Dobronravov in Moscow, picking them from over 600 contenders.
Crew or equipment visible:
When Ivan is sitting in the car, the camera pans around the car (before we see him grab the binoculars and begin to use them) – as it pans past the triangular car window you can see the camera reflected in it.
[on-screen caption: Sunday]
[boy falls in the water, then floats up]
Jump as we agreed! Who climbs down the ladder is a cowardly wanker.
[swims to the shore]
Boy on Tower:
Go on, Vityok. You're next.
one of the best movies of the decade
"The Return," a breathtakingly austere masterpiece from the land that
gave us Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Tarkovsky, is one of the most
beautifully acted and directed films I have seen in years.
Astonishingly enough, this is the feature film debut for director
Andrei Zvyagintsev who demonstrates more of a mastery and command of
the medium in this his maiden effort than most directors do in a whole
body of work.
The film tells the tale of two brothers, Ivan and Andrei, who live with
their mother and grandmother in a small coastal village in Russia. One
day, totally unexpectedly, the boys' father returns after a twelve-year
absence. In an effort to make up for lost time, the dad decides to take
his sons on a fishing trip, but, almost immediately, he begins to
demonstrate disturbing tendencies towards domination and abuse. He also
appears to be up to some sort of nefarious business operations to which
neither we nor the boys are entirely privy.
Every single moment of this film is a revelation. Zvyagintsev
beautifully captures the opposite ways in which the boys react to and
interact with their father. Andrei, the oldest, is so desperate for a
father figure in his life that he is willing to overlook the often
inexplicable, bizarre and possibly even dangerous behavior that this
particular father exhibits. Ivan, on the other hand, embittered by
years of absence and neglect, seethes with barely disguised rage at the
man who now presumes to enter into their once happy lives and assert
his authority. Of the two boys, he seems the most tuned into the kind
of threat the father may pose to their welfare. Yet, towards the end of
the story, the apparently latent love the boy feels for this man as his
father does eventually rise to the surface. Through this intense
interaction, the film emerges as a complex and profound study of what
father and son relationships are really all about.
It is virtually impossible to put into words just how brilliantly the
two young actors use their facial expressions to convey a wealth of
meaning and emotion. As portrayed by Vladimir Garin, Andrey looks up to
his father with a mixture of boyish pride and trembling awe, longing
for the kind of male affirmation he has been deprived of all these
years. He is desperate to please his father by proving to him that he
can perform the acts of manhood that his dad keeps putting forth for
him to do. As Ivan, Ivan Dobronravov spends most of his time glaring at
the man, his mouth pursed in a tight unyielding grimace of resentment
and hate. If I could give an award for the best performance by a child
actor in movie history, these two youngsters would be high on my list
of candidates. They are that amazing. Tragically, young Garin drowned
two months prior to the release of the film, leaving his indelible mark
behind in a performance that will never be forgotten by anyone
privileged enough to witness it. Konstantin Lavronenko is equally
impressive as the boy's mysterious father, beautifully underplaying the
part of a man who can appear sane and rational on the surface but who
is a seething cauldron of untapped emotions beneath. In fact, it is
this constant threat of violence always on the verge of eruption that
keeps us off balance and on edge throughout the entire picture.
The film's writers, Vladimir Moiseyenko and Aleksandr Novotosky,
deserve special recognition for not allowing the plot to overwhelm the
characters. For this is, first and foremost, a great character study.
The scenarists have intentionally left the background of the father
vague and sketchy, the better to enhance the sense of mystery and
danger he represents. We never find out what nefarious activities he is
involved with since that is of virtually no importance either to the
children or to us. We are too engrossed in the relationships of the
characters to care. In fact, there are a few hints towards the end of
the film that this seemingly cold, uncaring man, for all his myriad
faults, might actually just love his sons in his own strange way. The
film leaves us with no easy answers or pat resolutions at the end. And
this is how it should be. In fact, the scriptwriters even throw a few
of Hitchcock's prized "MacGuffins" into the mix to keep us off balance
(there is a scene in which some possibly stolen money sinks to the
bottom of a lake that is highly reminiscent of what happens in
Among other things, "The Return" represents one of the most impressive
directorial debuts since Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows."
Zvyagintsev's ability to draw great performances from his actors is
only one of his many talents on display here. His lyrical use of
composition, as well as the way in which he makes nature and weather an
integral part of his drama help to draw us so deeply into this world
that it takes the viewer literally hours to get fully back to his own
existence again once the movie has ended. It reverberates for days
afterwards. For as with any great film, "The Return" finds its way into
the depths of one's soul and leaves the viewer a richer person for the
Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival (2003), "The
Return" is a true work of art and one of the outstanding films of the
decade so far. Whatever you do, don't miss this film.